The weather had already shafted DC United. The higher seed, they lost homefield advantage when MLS switched the legs of their home-and-home with the Red Bulls because the New York area was still cleaning up after Hurricane Sandy. It wasn't fair, and United fans were pissed, but it's hard to see that there was any other option under the circumstances. The clubs tied 1-1 in Washington on Saturday, with the second leg set for last night in Harrison, N.J. It was a disaster waiting to happen.
Even nine days after the storm, the PATH still wasn't running as far as Harrison. A nor'easter hit New York, making driving all but impossible. Penn Station shut down during rush hour. Wet snow came down for hours, and it wasn't scheduled to end until this morning. Meanwhile, as a gesture to those displeased United Fans, MLS and the two clubs sprung for transportation and tickets from RFK to Red Bull Arena. A bus convoy filled with 700 fans wound its way up I-95, the hardiest of hardy fans.
And what did the couple thousand people who trudged found their way to the match get for their troubles? A sloppy but hard-fought elimination game? A rare appearance of the magic orange ball? A memory they'd never forget? Nah, they sat in their seats for a couple hours, then were told to leave.
"Looking at the forecast over time, at no point was it clear there would be so much snow and have it come so quickly," said Nelson Rodriguez, the league's executive vice president. [Ed note: This is bullshit. Not a single weather forecaster was predicting a window like the one MLS was hoping for.] "We decided to make the effort to play. We felt we owed it to everybody to see that effort through. In the end, we did not feel we could get the field into playable enough condition."
Players from both teams came out to salute their supporters, and the traveling contingent from DC had to hop on their buses and go home. (One poor bastard, from Richmond, Va., didn't get to his house until 6:30 this morning.)
MLS had two eminently reasonable options, and chose neither. They had the teams there, the fans there, a field in a shape reasonable enough to at least give both teams an even chance, and the right weather for an incredibly compelling broadcast—they could have just played the game, no matter how sloppy. Or they could have looked at the weather forecast and realized this was a shitstorm waiting to happen, and called the game early that afternoon, before fans made treacherous and distant journeys for no reason. By taking the middle ground, hoping against hope and science that conditions were going to somehow get better, MLS managed to shoot itself in the foot on national television. These are things a Mickey Mouse league does: fail to have a plan in place for a playoff match, alienate a TV audience by forcing an hourlong soccer-free broadcast, shit on fans who already put up with a ton just to watch your product.
The real second leg of DCU-RBNY is tonight. Unless it's not. They'll figure it out soonish.
Update, 7:20 EST: Commissioner Don Garber has issued a public apology for the way the league handled last night.